By Wayne Amann, Air Force ISR Agency Public Affairs
/ Published April 09, 2014
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - LACKLAND, Texas -- They effectively bring cold noses, furry coats and friendly dispositions to the fight - albeit indirectly.
They're called therapy dogs, the newest group of wingmen in the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency war fighting arsenal. The canines provide stress relief to agency Airmen by simply being themselves. It's a natural talent the enterprise plans on using more of to help its troops deal with the rigors of military life.
"We assessed our sites to determine what we could use to take care of our patient population in the ISR Agency, including anything to help human performance, resiliency, coping, behavioral modification, de-stressing and de-compressing," said Col. Paul Young, Air Force ISR Agency surgeon general. "We saw the hospitals, like Brooke Army Medical Center [San Antonio] and Wright State [Dayton, Ohio] were using therapy dogs. We asked their owners and people at the hospitals if we could transfer some of the programs to the ISR world."
That question led to the March 25 visit by three of the patriotic pups from the Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association to the agency's National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where they participated in NASIC's Beat Stress Seminar presented by the Wright-Pat Medical Center Outreach Program.
Then during the inaugural Agency Field Day and Family Picnic April 5 here, Jake, a seven-year-old golden retriever, made an appearance to help celebrate the agency family, and honor its deployed Airmen.
All the four-legged visitors to the agency do so courtesy of Therapy Dogs Inc., a national organization based in Cheyenne, Wyo. Incorporated in 1990, they have more than 12,000 handler/dog teams in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Territories.
Their goal is to provide registration, support, and insurance for its members who volunteer at animal assisted activities. Their objective is to form a network of caring individuals willing to share their special animals in bringing happiness and cheer to people, young and old alike.
Jake's owner, Diane White, the spouse of a retired Air Force member who now works at the 453rd Electronic Warfare Squadron here, is one of those caring people who understands the importance of the relationship with 'man's best friend.'
"My son-in-law is a physical therapist at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii," she said. "He was the reason I got involved with therapy dogs. When he was deployed, his happiest times were around forward operating bases that had dogs. It's where my heart is."
Besides good intentions like White's, an annual certification process is needed to qualify as a Therapy Dog Team.
Each owner must do obedience training with their dog on their own. Once the animal is two years old, the owner meets a certifier who interviews both owner and dog to see if the duo would be good for the program. After follow-up visits with the certifier the owner and dog take a test. Upon passing the test, paperwork is submitted to insuring the pair through Therapy Dogs Inc. The dog and its handler are covered as long as they are where people want them to be.
Young sees the Therapy Dog appearances benefitting the agency on two levels.
"Volunteers visit our sites when we invite them, which is an inexpensive way of helping our troop with budget issues going on," the doctor said. "It also spreads beyond taking care of our warriors. It spreads to the Fisher House taking care of our patient population."
Jake and White have been fixtures at the Joint Base San Antonio - Fort Sam Houston Fisher House for nearly four years. The pair's success led to others considering the program.
The idea of a morale dog for the 480th ISR Wing, at JBLE - Langley-Eustis, Va., surfaced in November, 2012. In February 2013, Lily, the wing's English Labrador retriever morale dog, was born.
"She started coming to work at two months old and was an instant hit," said Maj. Shauna Sperry, Director, Wing Operational Psychology for the 480th in an email. "We recently sent out a survey asking for feedback on the Operational Psychology Team and its impact at the Langley Distributed Ground Station-1 building. The survey included Lily so I'm anxious to read the comments."
"The first time we saw the Therapy Dog program was at the 480th," Young said. "We decided to initiate our program throughout the enterprise based on the use of their dog. She was the ground breaker for the agency."
The Therapy Dog Program is one piece of the agency's larger Combating Stress and Improving Coping & Resiliency Program. Medical teamed with the chaplain and safety to apply numerous resources, programs and processes to enhance ISR human performance.
"We've established the use of dogs at several ISR tenant units as a means of de-stressing, to mitigate concerns of suicide ideation, as an ice-breaker/approach tool for our mental health providers and as a non-partial friend to our silent warriors," Young said. "We look forward to branching out to places like Beale [Air Force Base, Calif.], Ft. Meade, [Md.] and Patrick [AFB, Fla.] in the near future. We've had great reviews so far."
White can attest to the positive vibes Therapy Dogs create.
"When you walk up to a military member who's struggling to walk on his new leg or one in a wheelchair who's down because he had a rough day, when they see Jake they light up," White said. "One soldier, who was burned over most of his body said, 'When I pet Jake, I feel no pain.' For me, that says it all."